Life Insurance

tr-flagLife insurance may be one of the most important purchases you’ll ever make. In the event of a tragedy, life insurance proceeds can help pay the bills, continue a family business, finance future needs like your children’s education, protect your spouse’s retirement plans, and much more.

If someone will suffer financially when you die, chances are you need life insurance. Life insurance provides cash to your family after your death. This cash (known as the death benefit) replaces your income and can help your family meet many important financial needs like funeral costs, daily living expenses and college funding. What’s more, there is no federal income tax on life insurance benefits.

Most Americans need life insurance. To figure out if you need life insurance, you need to think through the worst-case scenario. If you died tomorrow, how would your loved ones fare financially? Would they have the money to pay for your final expenses (e.g., funeral costs, medical bills, taxes, debts, lawyers’ fees, etc.)? Would they be able to meet ongoing living expenses like the rent or mortgage, food, clothing, transportation costs, healthcare, etc? What about long-range financial goals? Without your contribution to the household, would your surviving spouse be able to save enough money to put the kids through college or retire comfortably?

The truth is, it’s always a struggle when you lose someone you love. But your emotional struggles don’t need to be compounded by financial difficulties. Life insurance helps make sure that the people you care about will be provided for financially, even if you’re not there to care for them yourself. To help you understand how life insurance might apply to your particular situation, we’ve outlined a number of different scenarios below. So whether you’re young or old, married or single, have children or don’t, take a moment to consider how life insurance might fit into your financial plans.

Term insurance, the most affordable type of insurance when initially purchased, is designed to meet temporary needs. It provides protection for a specific period of time (the “term”) and generally pays a benefit only if you die during the term. This type of insurance often makes sense when you have a need for coverage that will disappear at a specific point in time. For instance, you may decide that you only need coverage until your children graduate from college or a particular debt is paid off, such as your mortgage.

Permanent insurance by contrast provides lifelong protection. As long as you pay the premiums, and no loans, withdrawals or surrenders are taken, the full face amount will be paid. Because it is designed to last a lifetime, permanent life insurance accumulates cash value and is priced for you to keep over a long period of time.

How much life insurance do I need?

Determining how much life insurance you need requires a careful examination of your current and future financial obligations (i.e., a combination of (a) what would it cost to help your surviving family members meet immediate and ongoing needs like funeral costs, taxes, food, clothing, utilities, mortgage payments, etc. and (b) future obligations like college and retirement funding) and the resources that your surviving family members could draw upon to meet those obligations (i.e., your spouse’s income, savings and investments, other income producing assets, and any life insurance you might already own).

The difference between the two (your financial obligations minus the resources your family has to meet those obligations) is the approximate amount of additional life insurance you need. If this sounds confusing, don’t worry. You’re not alone. That’s why most people turn to a qualified insurance professional when they want to figure out how much insurance they need.

What type of policy should I buy, term or permanent?

It’s impossible to say which is better because the kind of coverage that’s right for you depends on your unique circumstances and financial goals. But generally speaking, term offers the greatest coverage for the lowest initial premium and is a great solution for people with temporary needs or a limited budget. Permanent insurance may make more sense if you anticipate a need for lifelong protection and like the option of accumulating tax-deferred cash values. Also, it doesn’t have to be either one or the other. Oftentimes, a combination of term and permanent insurance is the right answer.

What are the various kinds of permanent insurance?

There are four main types. Whole life insurance is the most traditional form of “permanent” insurance. With it, the face amount (the death benefit) and the premium (the amount you pay for protection each year) are fixed at the time you buy your policy and stay the same even as you age. You also get a guaranteed rate of return on your cash values. Of course, any guarantee relies on the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company. By contrast, the cash value in universal life is linked to interest rates, and the cash value of variable life and variable universal life is linked the performance of the underlying investment options you choose to invest in and fluctuate with market conditions. These two types of insurance products are offered via a prospectus, as such, you should always request a copy of a current prospectus, as it contains information you need such as the investment objectives, risks, and charges and expenses of the investment. The cash value of universal and variable policies is not guaranteed, although some policies set a minimum death benefit. With universal policies (universal life and variable universal life) you can reduce or increase the amount of the death benefit and vary the amount or timing of premium payments, subject to certain limitations. If you’re having a hard time understanding the differences between these policies, don’t despair. You can learn more about permanent life insurance by contacting Stokes-Farnham.